Rebounding from Major Setbacks

2015 wasn’t the first time I felt like my business was falling apart. It also happened in 2012.

The disaster of 2012 actually began in 2011. Newly split from my co-founder, I was excited to take over the reigns of the business and really start growing it as I had always envisioned. I moved production overseas to make the product more viable in the marketplace, and, for the first time ever, got large orders from nationwide stores like REI and Title Nine. When I did my revenue forecasts, 2012 looked like it was going to be the first year when I could pay myself, plus another person or two, plus get our own studio space. It’s hard to express how meaningful that felt after slogging away without anything for 3 years.

It all started to fall apart when the product from our new manufacturer showed up months late. I didn’t want to upset our new customers by not being able to ship on time, so I produced product locally, which demolished the profit I was planning on making. Then, not all of the products that showed up were up to our standards, so I took a loss on those too. Then, the bags that we did ship didn’t sell as well as the stores had thought they would, and they canceled their future orders.

This left me deep in the red and with a lot of inventory that I didn’t know what to do with. All I could think about was, “Who can I sell this stuff to??”. I didn’t care who bought it, I just needed to sell it.

My wake-up call was when I was talking to my business coach and she asked me who I thought my customer was. “I don’t even know!” I wailed.

In my design agency days, “Know your customer” was my mantra. I did user research and built customer personas all day long. And here I was, with my own business, not even knowing who my (true) customer was. My customer was anyone who would buy bags so that I could live another day.

Not good.

I survived that year, and became stronger, or at least more resilient. (Hear a podcast interview with me about this whole episode on Fashion Brain Academy). It took awhile to recover and get everything back in order. In 2013 and 2014, we started doing a lot more consumer facing events, and I got to meet my customer in person. We did a big research project in 2014, which helped me get to know her even better. But, knowing your customer isn’t quite enough to have a successful business. You also have to have a vision for your company, and know why it is doing what it is doing.

I always thought I had a vision. It was this: “Po Campo to be the go-to brand for urban minded individuals who seek to make every day a day worth living”. I guess that’s kind of a vision. But it doesn’t give you the “why”. Why do I want this? And why does my customer care?

So that’s what I’m working on now. I started Po Campo from a very genuine place. I wanted to make these bike bags because I knew they would help people bike more to get around, which is something I care about deeply. I don’t feel like I need to fabricate a “why”. I just need to articulate it, and embrace it.

 

 

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2015 Was Quite a Crucible!

Yes, it has been about a year since I last posted and oh man, has so much happened. I didn’t feel like writing while in the midst of so much change, but now that I am back on somewhat sure footing again, I wanted to share what I’ve been up to.

Last year at about this time, I decided to make some big changes at Po Campo. Basically, I decided to cease doing business as usual. That decision was the culmination of many sleepless nights that led me to realize that how I was leading Po Campo was just not working.

  • Our products were selling too slowly. We had too much money tied up in inventory, killing us cash flow-wise. Also, why weren’t our products selling better?
  • We continued to have manufacturing problems. After many conversations with our manufacturer, it became clear to me that they were not the right partner for us, but I had no alternative.
  • The team was getting tired. Sales growth had slowed and nobody was being paid nearly what they were worth, despite years of hard work. Including myself.
  • Customers were asking for new products, but we already had too much inventory, no money to make new products, and not enough energy to develop them.

Here is a situation that we have all been in, which will help you relate to why I decided to change course: You are discussing a problem with a longterm romantic partner, and before you know it, that conversation about a small problem quickly escalates to why you need to break up. It makes you sick to think about it, but in your heart of hearts, you know it is the right thing to do. That is how the decision to “break-up” with the existing incarnation of Po Campo felt to me.

And like in those conversations with a partner, you might try to patch the problems  first before cutting the cord completely. I did that last spring with Po Campo too. We launched a new mobile-friendly, keyword-optimized website to improve our online sales. We started partnering with bicycle advocacy groups to build brand awareness among their supporters, who I felt understood the intent of Po Campo the best. Regretfully, both of these last pushes fell flat. Our traffic and conversion rate with the new website actually decreased, and the nonprofit partnerships did not yield much traction either.

I had funded the company with my own savings and through debt (loans). We were out of money again, but I didn’t want to borrow any more. It felt like I was just going to be throwing good money after bad. With no new money, my only option was to dramatically cut expenses. So that’s when the break-up really happened.

I let go of my team and sublet our studio space, which cut about 60% of the expenses off the bat. As part of my mission to make Po Campo the “right size”, I liquidated all the slow-moving inventory. Going from a 3 person team to a 1 person company meant I had to relearn a lot of the business, and decide what to keep doing myself, what to cease doing, and what to outsource. Figuring all that out occupied me for many months, plus I wanted to set some time aside for soul searching about to do next, and to work on some long standing problems.

During this tumultuous time, my loving father past away and an opportunity arose for my husband and I to move to NYC. I was in a daze and kind of wanted to give myself a fresh start, so we decided to take the leap and move. Changing your surroundings does make you look at everything anew, which I needed, so I’m glad we did this.

Looking back, for all the stress and trauma over the last 12 months, I feel like I came out ahead. We have a new manufacturer who I really enjoy working with, and the products are so much better! Finally the quality and craftsmanship matches my vision, and it only took me six years (and hundreds of thousands of dollars) to get there. Eeesh. I also redesigned our flagship bike bags to correct some of the longstanding problems with them, and can’t wait to launch them this month. I don’t know if they’ll move the needle too dramatically sales-wise, but at least I feel completely proud of them.

Po Campo 1.0 is now living more-or-less within its means. I’m getting by as a solo entrepreneur. I don’t enjoy it as much as when I had a team, and our own office, but this is what a company of our size needs to look like.

I’m also working on Po Campo 2.0. I love dreaming big, and have big aspirations for the company and brand. I have a plan for what I want to do differently this second time around. Or, what to do differently to build on what I’ve already accomplished.

While 2015 was definitely a tough year, after all that soul searching, I know I want to continue this journey because I still believe 100% in the brand and the product concept. It’s not done yet, and I want to see it through.

So that’s where I’ve been, and what I’ve been dealing with. Back to the regularly scheduled content next week!

 

How to Find Independent Sales Reps

If you have a product that you want to sell to retailers, you’re soon going to need help with sales. Following up with current and potential accounts takes a surprising amount of effort, especially as your list grows to 100+ leads, which it probably will after a single trade show. That’s a lot for one person to handle, especially if that one person is doing everything else in the business. The logical next step is to find sales reps.

In my industry, brands rely almost exclusively on commission-only independent sales reps rather than in-house reps that earn a mix of salary and commission. The reps operate as business owners themselves, picking up lines of products that go together, showing them to stores that they have relationships with, and writing orders on your behalf. They will be the primary point of contact with your customer (which, by the way, they consider as their customer).

Being a sales rep is hard work. You are knocking on a lot of doors and showing the line to a lot of people before you get any bites. Bites large enough to pay the bills with a commission check, anyway. For that reason, I recommend going with an experienced rep who has a lot of relationships in place instead of someone who is just getting started or just really likes your product and wants to help you out.

At Po Campo, we have gone through a lot of reps and, in doing so, I have developed a couple ways to find reps. Below are my methods from most successful (as in, bringing in the most and best quality orders) to the least successful.

  • Ask the buyer which reps he or she likes working with. A good rep solves problems, is organized and brings new opportunities to them, which makes the buyer more willing to purchase product from her. This is easier to do for smaller shops than bigger chains, but I say something like, “I am looking for a rep that sells to stores like yours, do you have any recommendations?”.
  • Ask other brands which reps they use and have had success with. Don’t ask direct competitors, but simpatico brands. For example, I look at what other accessory brands (hats, socks, etc) that my retailers stock and reach out to them for their recommendations. Most people are happy to share their good reps and can tell you which ones to stay away from too.
  • Ask reps for their suggestions. If you find a good rep, you can ask her for her suggestions. She might know of someone who is looking to pick up a line like yours, or someone that she knows did a good job with a line in a different territory. I put this as my third suggestion because although reps offer suggestions very readily, I feel like they judge effectiveness differently than buyers or brands do.
  • Industry rep organizations. For example, I was looking for a rep in the upper midwest and posted an ad on the MWSRA site and found someone.
  • Trade shows are a common place for reps to pick up and trade lines with other reps. There’s often a message board where you can post something. Many reps have booths with their lines, so you can find one with an assortment that would work for you.
I find reps to be better at “farming” than “hunting” meaning that they will be better at selling your line to accounts that they already have relationships with. For that reason, if you know which stores you want to sell to, make sure any prospective reps know the buyers there and have sold them within the last year or so. If you’re not sure which stores you want to be in in a certain territory, ask the rep which of her accounts will be most likely to buy your product, and that should give you a sense of where your product will end up in the best case scenario.

How do you find sales reps? Please add your suggestions in the comments below.

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Some Tips for Managing Entrepreneurial Stress

People often ask me which parts of owning a company I both like and dislike. My answer is the same to both: being the boss. Once I realized I had the power to build the company that I always wanted to work at, I became addicted to not having to answer to anybody.

But, being the boss is also hard. When something goes wrong, or there’s a tough decision, it always finds its way to me and I have nobody else to hand it off to. A lot of the time, I don’t know the best way to handle the situation. I’ll get advice from people, make a call, and then be forced to live with it. This can be stressful.

During the last week, and probably for a few weeks to come, things have been particularly stressful at my company. I’ll fill you in one what is happening once I’m through the storm, but let’s just say I’m having a lot of sleepless nights. Once I noticed that I was starting to become a little unhinged, just at the time when I need to be my strongest as a leader, I remembered my trusty tricks for managing stress.

1. Take a break. A short bike ride or walk can work wonders for clearing my head and calming me down, especially after a difficult phone call or getting a piece of bad news. Physical activity, even low intensity activity, releases endorphins, the brain chemicals that relieve pain and stimulate relaxation. And if I need more time? I take as much time as I need. That’s part of the reason I instituted flex time, so I can always feel at my best.

2. Practice yoga. I like to start my days with a 20 minute yoga practice, especially when I know the day ahead is going to a tough one. It helps to make me feel limber and ready for anything, and setting an intention for the day (usually “Stay Positive!” helps me feel focused. I use yogadownload.com, which has several 20 minute classes that you can stream for free.

3. Meditate and breathe. After my morning yoga practice, I usually meditate for 10 minutes with the help of my Dharma Meditation Trainer app. It’s not a lot of time, but it’s enough to keep the “monkey mind” at bay, which tends to go out of control when I’m stressed. Learning how to breathe, clear my head and calm myself down – on demand – is the best trick for managing stressful situations.

4. Eat well. Does what you eat help with managing stress? I believe so. When I’m stressed, I crave macaroni and cheese and other comfort foods at every meal. I think that’s okay, but some vitamins/nutrients are particularly helpful for reducing stress, so preparing a good balanced lunch for myself reminds me that I care about myself and my health.

5. Keep my gratitude list handy. I believe in the practice of reminding yourself of all the things you have to be thankful for on a daily basis. I keep this list nearby and glance at it when I feel the world on my shoulders. It reminds me that there’s a lot more to my life than whatever I’m dealing with at the moment, which gives me strength.

That’s my list. What did I miss? What are your tricks for managing entrepreneurial stress? Please share in the comments below.

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Finding Design Inspiration When It’s All Working Against You

You may have noticed that for a designer I talk very little about designing on this blog. I think that’s because I’m so consumed with learning about all the other aspects of running a business that I think of designing as the easy part. I already KNOW how to do that.

Yet lately I’ve been feeling like I haven’t been giving designing enough attention. For the last few years, it has been something that I’ve just dashed off when I’ve had time. Need to design the Spring collection? There are a few hours for me to do that next Friday. That’s designing multiple items. In an afternoon. I’m joking somewhat but it’s sadly not too far from the truth.

A few weeks ago I went to a Creative Mornings and heard local fashion designer Maria Pinto speak. She told us that as creative types, we have this great gift to create new and beautiful things, and that’s a gift that a lot of people yearn to have. I realized that I have this gift and I’ve been kind of squandering it, focusing instead on learning how to be the marketer, accountant, logistics guy. All those things are important, but it’s like I’m dwelling on all the things I don’t know instead of exercising the muscle that I already have.

The problem is, it’s hard to get into a creative flow when you’re being pulled in so many directions. I’ll be happily sketching new bags and get a phone call from a lender about an upcoming loan repayment that I don’t have the money for, and that stresses me out. Or the dock door stops working and we all have to load boxes onto the truck by hand. Or a magazine editor calls and wants assets ASAP to be included in a new story, which of course I drop everything to do. Before I know it, a few days have passed and I’ll look at my page of sketches and barely be able to remember what I was thinking, or imagining.

Feeling like I owed the designer in me more, I took advantage of a cheap flight to Mexico City and spent five days there to escape my normal life. I pictured myself sitting in one of the city’s beautiful parks and sketching, or going to museums or galleries and getting inspired. Instead, I spent most of my days at my computer responding to email (how does that take up so much time?!?!) or researching keywords for our website refresh. Even so, I could feel the richness of the city seeping into me. Every time I went to a new cafe, I’d snap a few pictures of something new and enchanting, knowing that it would resurface later.

BagsInStore

Creadores De Bicis, Po Campo’s Mexican distributor.

BikeExhibit

The “La Vuelta a la Bici” (Return to Bike) exhibit, about the history of the bicycle and its continued relevancy. I would have died of happiness if a Po Campo bag was included in the exhibit, but the bit about women suffragists and World Bicycle Relief were enough to make me feel included.

Cafe

The cafe next door with cheap and good coffee and strong WiFi

Coyoacan

Coyoacan, whose tidy backstreets are seriously enchanting.

StreetSign

Love love love Mexican tilework.

TileTexture

Bricks

WovenSeat

Woven goodness

Then, on the airplane on the way home, I pulled out my paper and came up with some new ideas.

Airplane Sketches

Airplane Sketches

What do you do to get inspired, or to escape the madness of the everyday?

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5 Inspiring Female African American Entrepreneurs

I’ve written before about how I wish there were more female entrepreneur role models for me to look up to. The ones that come to my mind quickest: Sophia Amoruso, Sara Blakely, Martha Stewart, all have something in common. They are all white, like me. In honor of Black History Month, I wanted to learn about female African American entrepreneurs to be inspired by them, too. Their stories, their struggles, and their successes aren’t told nearly enough and are truly inspirational.

1. Madam C.J. Walker, 1867 – 1919

Sarah Breedlove, a.k.a. Madam C.J. Walker, started life in Louisiana as the first child in her family born into freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation. Orphaned at age 6, she went on to become the first female self-made millionaire in America through the success of her Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, which sold beauty and hair products.

After learning about hair and beauty products at her brother’s barber shop, she devised her own line and her own beauty college to train “hair culturists”. She emphasized the importance of philanthropy and political engagement as many African American entrepreneurs do, rewarding employees not just for their sales but also for how much they contributed to local charities.

2. Maggie L. Walker, 1867 – 1934

While attending school, Maggie Walker (no relation to Madam C.J. Walker) became involved with the Independent Order of St. Luke, a fraternal organization dedicated to the social and financial advancement of African Americans. She stayed active in the organization while raising her children, assuming control of it in 1899 when it was on the verge of bankruptcy.

In true entrepreneurial style, she refused to let her organization die. In 1901, she gave a speech on how she would save it and, in the coming years, followed through on each item she described. Soon she founded the St. Luke Herald, a newspaper to carry news of the organization’s work to local chapters. The following year, she opened the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank and served as its president, making her the first black woman to charter a bank in the U.S..  A few years later, she opened the St. Luke Emporium, a department store that offered African-American women opportunities for work and to give the black community access to cheaper goods.

Of all the women on this list, it was hardest to find information for Maggie Walker. I love the sense of her determination though, and to do what it takes to make her vision become a reality.

3. Mary McLeod Bethune, 1875 – 1955

Mary McLeod Bethune was born into a big family of 17 kids in South Carolina. She had an early love of education and was the only person in her family to go to school. She would come home and teach her siblings what she had learned.

After moving to Florida as an adult, she became determined to open a school for girls because she believed that educating girls and women was crucial to improve the conditions of black people. Ms. Bethune’s incredible ability to market and grow her school is what earned her spot on this list of African American entrepreneurs; her school grew from 6 pupils in 1904 to eventually becoming incorporated as a college in 1931, with herself as president.

Ms. Bethune went on to do amazing things as a public leader, which I encourage you to read about.

(Incidentally, I agree that educating girls is key to transformational change, which is why we support World Bicycle Relief).

4. Cathy Hughes, 1942 –

Cathy Hughes is best known for starting Radio One in 1980, which has grown into the largest network targeting African American and urban listeners with 55 stations across the country. Like the other women on this list of African American entrepreneurs, Ms. Hughes had humble beginnings, becoming a teen mom at age 16 and kicked out of her home a year later.

One of the best known stories about her is how she and her young son lived at the radio station in its early years when it (and, by extension, they) were struggling financially. This story really struck a chord with me, because while I have not had to sleep in Po Campo’s warehouse yet, I know that I would do that if it meant keeping my business alive. Ms. Hughes is very inspiring woman and I encourage you to read this interview in the Huffington Post about her.

4. Oprah Winfrey, 1954 –

Well, you can’t have a list of African American entrepreneurs and not include Oprah Winfrey. Her story begins with being born into poverty in Mississippi to a teenage mother. She became a millionaire at age 32 when her show went national and is now considered the U.S.’s only African American billionaire. Of course her vast wealth is impressive, but how she overcame so many barriers to get to where she is today is truly inspirational. This video from the Makers series lets Ms. Winfrey tell her own story of her upbringing, her fight for equal pay, her bold philanthropic visions, and how she had to tell all the non-believers “I’ll show you” – and then did.


Who did I miss? Please leave your suggestions in the comments below so that we can appreciate all the amazing things these women have accomplished. #28daysisnotenough

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Export Documents and Commercial Invoice Template

Some of Po Campo’s first customers were located in Germany and Japan, so I had to figure out the whole exporting thing early on. Each country seems to require different documents for importing (Thailand is the worst!), but there are two export documents that you’ll need to prepare regardless of which country you are shipping to: the Packing List and the Commercial Invoice.

You probably already have a packing list and invoice template that you use for your domestic shipping but the export versions look a little different and require some additional information. The first time we exported something, I downloaded templates of export documents off of the internet and just kept tweaking them until I found a solution that seemed to make everybody happy. This version is what I am sharing with you now. That said, I hereby absolve myself of any issues you may have with using my commercial invoice template or packing list template.

Both of these templates are in Excel, which makes for easy editing. Download the Packing-List-Template and Commercial Invoice template to get started.


Packing List
Most of the things on this template are pretty straightforward, like invoice # and PO #. Below are a few lines that might need a little explanation. Download the Packing List template.

Packing-List-Template

  1. This should be where the products are shipping from. If your warehouse is separate from your office, use the warehouse address.
  2. B/L Number, or Bill of Lading Number. This will be given to you by the shipping company or freight forwarder.
  3. Item number or SKU number
  4. Material content. This is important for duty calculation.
  5. G.W. and N.W. refer to gross weight (includes the carton) and net weight (product only), respectively. The weight should be in kilograms. The Excel file will calculate the totals based on the number of cartons that you are shipping.
  6. CBM is CuBic Meter and refers to how much volume your shipment takes. It is calculated based on your carton dimensions in centimeters. The Excel file will calculate this automatically for you, or you can use this online cbm calculator.

The total number of cartons, weights and volume are automatically calculated and noted at the bottom of the spreadsheet.


Commercial Invoice
Again, most things on this template are pretty straightforward. Download the Commercial Invoice template.

Commercial-Invoice-Template

  1. Shipper/Exporter is you, and this should be your business address (which may be different than the warehouse address)
  2. Consignee is the company receiving the shipment, most likely your customer
  3. Shipper is the company actually transporting the goods. My customer typically selects the shipper, and then I put that company’s info here (i.e. Kuehne + Nagel).
  4. Commercial Invoice # and PO # MUST match the numbers on the Packing Slip or pandemonium ensues.
  5. B/L (Bill of Lading) or AWB (Airway Bill) number will be given to you by the freight forwarder.
  6. Country of Origin is where the product was made and can affect duty rates with NAFTA. If you imported materials but made the product in the USA, I think it is alright to put USA in this field. But I’m not an expert! So have your reasoning ready in case someone should ask you about it.
  7. Terms of Payment is whatever you decided with your customer. This could say “Prepaid” or “Net 30” or “Due on receipt”, for example.
  8. Embarkation Port is the port where the product leaves our country. If you don’t know this, you can leave it blank.
  9. Exporting Carrier/Route is the path the shipment will take to go from you to the customer. Sometimes this appears on the B/L. If you don’t know it, you can leave it blank.
  10. Export Reference. I honestly don’t know what this is but it’s on every commercial invoice form so I just left it in there. I always leave it blank and haven’t been questioned about it. Fake it ’til you make it!
  11. Forwarding Agent is if there is another person or company involved in the shipment that is helping to arrange everything, like a freight forwarder. In my experience, usually the customer (consignee) handles everything and we don’t use a third party, in which case you can just leave this blank.
  12. Make sure these prices match what your customer is expecting. It seems that sometimes the customer prepares their own sets of documents and it can cause a lot of confusion if the prices don’t match.

Shipment Labeling and Handling of Export Documents

After you have export documents prepared, email a PDF of each to both your customer and shipping company to make sure they are satisfied with what you will be providing.

If you are shipping your product on skids, load all your boxes onto the pallets and wrap with shrink wrap. Attach the packing slip to the pallet using a packing slip envelope or just tuck it behind the plastic wrap. Print labels for each skid with the following information:

  • Exporter (you)
  • Consignee (your customer)
  • PO #
  • Pallet # (1 of 3, 2 of 3, etc)

If you are shipping your cartons loose, print carton labels for each box with the above information, but label the cartons 1 of 15, 2 of 15, etc, rather than the pallets. The packing slip should be adhered to the outside of the #1 carton.

Print two copies of the Bill of Lading given to you by the shipping company. Have the driver of the shipping company sign and date one of the copies for your records and send the other along with him.


Other Useful Tidbits

  • You may think that it is better to ship on a pallet, but that is not always the case. Many countries insist on fumigating all wooden pallets to kill off any invasive species, which is insanely expensive, so often times it is best to ship loose boxes. If you decide to go the pallet route, I recommend plastic pallets, which cost about $35 each.
  • Depending on the country and company, sometimes the shipping company or freight forwarder will send you more documents to fill out. If you don’t understand what to do with them, call and ask for assistance. You probably won’t be the first person to ask and it’s best to get it right.
  • You might need to know the harmonization code for your product. This refers to the tariff code that classifies products. The U.S. International Trade Commission has a decent HTS Online Reference tool that you can use to look up your code. I use the code 4202.22.3500 for handbags with outer surface of textile materials.

Did I leave anything out? Do you do anything differently? Please share in the comments below.

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How-To Measure Social Media (for Free)

Yep, social media can be an awesome, inexpensive and fun way to connect with current and potential customers and their communities. It can also be an excellent way to waste a lot of time and money. Are you wondering if your social media efforts are paying off? Here’s my method for how to measure social media for free (and not just for a first 30 day trial period either).

In the old days, people were obsessed with growing their fans and followers above all else. Times have changed, as we’ve learned that those metrics are not a good indicator of how well you’re connecting with your audience. Rather than counting how many fans you have or how often you are posting, pay attention to your engagement rate. Engagement is how often people interact with your content, either by liking it or sharing it or commenting on it.

The engagement rate is a blend of likes/comments/shares, but at Po Campo we break it down to look at each action separately. This takes more effort, but it sheds light on how the different platforms behave and helps you understand what to do to up your game in each space.

The Engagement Rate can be broken down into:

  • Conversation Rate (Comments per post)
  • Amplification Rate (Shares per post)
  • Applause rate (Likes per post)

I used Facebook terminology, but all social media platforms have their equivalents. For example, on Twitter, Conversation = replies, Amplification = re-tweets, and Applause = favorites.

This concept was first introduced by Avinash Kaushik in his post “Best Social Media Metrics: Conversation, Amplification, Applause, Economic Value“, where he advocated measuring the outcomes and not activity. At the time, there was no easy way to get these numbers. Now, thankfully, there is. TrueSocialMetrics offer a service that measures these things automatically for you.

Screenshot from TrueSocialMetrics, courtesy of Moz

However, TrueSocialMetrics is not free; their most basic package is $30/month. While not terribly expensive, those monthly costs really add up, so I wanted to compare how much it would cost to do the same measurements internally. After devising this method on how-to measure social media, I found out that we could do it once a month for half the cost. Once a month is a frequency that works for us because, well, we’ve got other things to do besides just measuring social media.

In devising our own system, I added a few more metrics:

  • Click-Through Rate, since one of our social media goals is to increase web traffic
  • Relative Engagement Rate, to compare how active each follower is on each platform
  • Economic Value Rate, to see how much money each social media platform brings in
Measuring-Social-Media-Worksheet

Access this temple on Google Docs and start measuring your social media efforts today.

I created a template on Google Docs for you to use. It consists of two worksheets:

The first tab is a worksheet where you enter your data in the top portion and the rates are automatically calculated below. We do this on the first day of the month. In my example above, you can immediately see which platforms are performing better across the different metrics: Facebook is great for conversations and sharing, Pinterest users are more engaged, Instagram gives us the loudest “applause”, meaning our content there is resonating well. Our Twitter account obviously is lacking across all metrics. I’ll dig deeper into what to do with these learnings in a separate post, but I bet you already have some ideas.

The second is a worksheet that calculates your month over month improvement. I meet with my social media team member in the beginning of each month to review our numbers and to identify what is working well and what needs some help.

Your next question is probably where to find the numbers to populate the top part of the “How-To Measure Social Media” table. Well, here you go! Below is how to find your data, platform-by-platform, using completely free services. Once you do it once, it’ll become quicker, I swear.

Jump to a specific social media platform: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram.


Facebook

  • # of Likes
  1. Go to your Facebook page’s Insights panel and click on Likes tab.
  2. Update dates at right side
  3. See total likes beneath graph

Measuring-Social-Media-Facebook-Likes

  • # of Posts / Comments / Shares / Likes

This one unfortunately isn’t as straightforward because Facebook Insights shows you the average amount of comments/shares/likes that your posts received, not the totals, which are needed to calculate the rate. I prefer the rate over the average so you know how effective your posts are. If you can accomplish the same results with 20 posts instead of 200, that is a better use of time, and only the rate gives you that information.

  1. Go to your Facebook page’s Insights panel and click on Reach tab and click Export.
  2. Change dates in pop-up window and select the “Post Data” report
  3. Open the report in Excel and try not to feel overwhelmed. Navigate to the second tab titled “Lifetime: The number of unique people who created a story about your Page post by interacting with it. (Unique Users)”.
  4. See how many rows there are and subtract by two so as to not count the headers. This is your # of Posts value.
  5. Add up the values in Columns I, J and K (comment, like and share, respectively) to get those values.
Measuring-Social-Media-Facebook-Export

Step 1: Exporting the data for your posts

Step 2: Open data and add up your values

Step 2: Open data and add up your values

  • # of Clicks to Website & Total Revenue

These last two values can be found in Google Analytics. You need to check both the “Social” channel and “(Other)” channel, as traffic from smartphone apps sometimes shows up in the latter.

  1. In Analytics, go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels and change the date at top.
  2. Click on Social to see traffic coming directly from the social media sites. Write down the total number of sessions (clicks to website) and total revenue.
  3. Go back to the Channels report and click on (Other) to see more traffic from those platforms that came to your site from a different app. Again, write down the sessions and total revenue from each channel.
  4. Add the values from #2 and #3 together and put them in the worksheet.

Measuring-Social-Media-Google-Analytics


Twitter
You’ll need to set-up a free Twitter analytics account to access these reports.

  • # of Followers
  1. In your Twitter Analytics page, go to “Followers” tab
  2. Find your number of followers on a particular date on the bar graph.

Measuring-Social-Media-Twitter-Followers

  • # of Posts / Replies / Retweets / Favorites

Similar to Facebook, Twitter Analytics makes it easy to see the averages but difficult to see the totals.  You have to download the data and add it up in Excel.

  1. In Twitter Analytics, go to “Tweets” tab and click “Export Data”. This can take awhile because it exports ALL your data.
  2. Once opened in Excel, copy the rows of tweets that were posted in your time period and paste into a new worksheet. (This is optional, just makes it easier to work with).
  3. Count the number of rows to get your # of Posts value.
  4. Similar to the facebook data above, add the values in column H, I, J to get your total Retweets, Replies, and Favorites, respectively.
  • # of Clicks to Website & Total Revenue

These last two values can be found in Google Analytics, same as above.


Pinterest
You will have to set up a free business account on Pinterest to get access to their analytics.

  • # of Followers and # of Pins
  1. Your # of followers can be found on your main profile page. There is no way to find it back-in-time, so just be diligent about recording this number on the last day of the month.
  2. There’s no way to see how many new pins you posted during the time period, but pins tend to live on longer on Pinterest anyway. Therefore, we record the total # of our pins on all of our boards for this metric.

Measuring-Social-Media-Pinterest-Totals

  • # of Repins / Likes

Once again, you have to download the raw data to be able to count these metrics, as Pinterest analytics only gives you the averages for a certain time period. The raw data only shows you your top pins, not everything, but I’ve found this to be workable. Sadly, Pinterest Analytics does not offer a “comment” metric, so we are unable to determine the conversation rate for this platform.

  1. In Pinterest Analytics, go to Your Pinterest Profile tab and select the Impressions option. Change the date and then click “Export”.
  2. Similar to the facebook data above, in the”Top Pin impressions” section, add the values in column G & H to get your total number of repins and likes.
  • # of Clicks to Website & Total Revenue

These last two values can be found in Google Analytics, same as above.


Instagram
Instagram does not offer its own analytics yet. We use a free account on Iconosquare for these basic metrics. Most of their statistics are on a rolling monthly basis, so it’s best to be diligent about getting these numbers on the last day of your recording period. Since Instagram does not really have a “Share” option, we skip the Amplification rate for this medium.

  • # of Followers 
  1. Navigate to the “Statistics” tab in Iconosquare. Your number of followers is on the main Overview page.
  • # of Posts
  1. Click on “Content” on the left side. Your # of our posts during each month are visible in the Distribution graph.

Measuring-Social-Media-Instagram-Posts

  • # of Likes / Comments
  1. In Iconosquare, click on “Engagement” on left side. In the “Like Received” graph, mouse over the bar for the month to see the total number of likes.
  2. For Comments, do the same thing on “Comment Received” graph.

Measuring-Social-Media-Instagram-Likes

  • # of Clicks to Website & Total Revenue

These last two values can be found in Google Analytics, same as above. Instagram traffic will most likely show up only on the “(Other)” channel, for whatever reason.


Now that you know where to find your measurements, and what to do with them (put them in my Measuring Social Media table!), I look forward to hearing about your insights. If you have better tools, please share, especially if they are free. It seems like most services are built for agencies managing multiple brands or big brands with big budgets, and not too much for us little guys. That’s why this DIY method seems like the best option for right now.

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How I Increased our Holiday Sales by 87%

My post “How I Plan to Maximize Holiday Sales” from 11/18/14 outlined my strategy for cashing in on the holiday shopping season. Are you curious about how my plans worked out? Now that the dust has settled, I checked to see how well we did.

I pulled these reports with Quickbooks and Google Analytics. Details on how to do so are in each metric.

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Google Analytics Acquisition>All Traffic>Channel report, comparing 2014 (Blue) against 2013 (Orange). This report shows Sessions (aka Traffic) and E-Commerce Conversion Rate.


Overall Goal: Double sales over 2013
Result: Overall sales increased by 87.2%. So not quite double, but pretty close.
Analysis: Of course it always burns a bit to not quite hit your goal, but overall I am happy with how the season turned out.
How I know this: In Quickbooks, I ran a Profit & Loss Statement (P&L) for the holiday time period and compared 2014 against 2013.


Goal: Double retail event sales by doing many more events
Result: Event sales increase by 98.7%. Hurray! Again, not quite the goal, but pretty darn close.
Analysis: We did a whopping 8 events (as opposed to just one in 2013), and that strategy obviously worked. That said, we were all pretty exhausted by the end of the month. Next year we’ll skip some of the slower shows and enlist more volunteers so we aren’t working seven days a week.
How I know this: In the same P&L statement from above, I filtered it for our “Retail Events” customer. We didn’t set-up a Retail Events customer until midway through 2014, but since we use Square for credit card transactions at events, I was able to figure out the 2013 sales with a Square sales report.


Goal: Maintain the momentum of increased traffic to our website by 56% over 2013
Result: Traffic increased by 62.3%.
Analysis: I attribute the extra bump in traffic to just more people being online and shopping.
How I know this: In the Google Analytics Acquisition Overview report, I compared 2014 against 2013. I refer to “Sessions” to represent inbound traffic.


Goal: Increase referral traffic by roughly 50% by being in more gift guides
Result: Referral traffic increased by 41.2%.
Analysis: Despite not hitting our goal, I am very pleased with how this strategy played out. Our e-commerce conversion rate from referral increased to an impressive 9.73% (compared to 0.41% in 2013), and of course that is a better metric than just traffic. We will push harder for gift guides next year, and get started on them earlier.
How I know this: In the same Google Analytics Overview report, then just clicking on the “Referral” line to dive into that report.


Goal: Invest in social media advertising to increase conversions.
Result: Our traffic from social increased an impressive 435.7% and our e-commerce conversion rate increased 214%. The vast majority of both traffic and conversions came from Pinterest.
Analysis: Obviously the Pinterest increase is a huge win, and interesting because we didn’t put any marketing dollars there. We did advertise on both Facebook and Google, and hardly saw a bump from those advertising efforts. Next year we will double down on Pinterest and try advertising there instead.
How I know this: In the same Google Analytics Overview report, then just clicking on the “Social” line to dive into that report.


Goal: Keep drop ship account momentum going, which had increased 74.1% over 2013.
Result: During the holidays, our drop ship orders increased by 132.1%!
Analysis: We offered our drop ship accounts limited-time discounts on certain SKUs so that they would have styles to promote during the big shopping days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We also changed to shipping every day (rather than just Monday, Wednesday and Friday) so that they can offer more shipping days.
How I know this: In Quickbooks, I ran a report under “Manufacturing & Wholesale Reports” called “Sales by Customer Type” and filtered it for the “Drop Ship” type. Note: You have to be using the Quickbooks Premier: Manufacturing & Wholesale Edition to have access to this report. Another method would be to just compare sales from these accounts from one year to the other.


Overall I am very pleased with how the holiday sales turned out. It’s great to end the year on a high note and to sell through a lot of inventory. For 2016, I want to reduce the craziness by getting a headstart on some of these initiatives, especially pitching the gift guides and our social media campaigns earlier on.

If you had particular success with any of your holiday marketing strategies, please share in the comments below.

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10 Things You Should Know Before Starting a Maker Business

I recently came across a post entitled 10 Things You Should Know Before Opening a Cafe on ladyironchef.com. I was surprised to see how many similarities there were between running a cafe and running a maker business, as I’ve always thought of service businesses and product businesses as completely different animals. Feeling inspired, I adapted her ten lessons to create my own take on 10 things to know before starting a maker business. *Note: I switched around the order of her points but kept the titles the same.

#1 The Owner Has to Be Hands On
Sure, this means all the grunt work that goes along with running a small business, like calling the post office to track down shipments, taking out the trash and sweeping the floor, schlepping box after box up and down stairs, in and out of cars, fixing the printer, fixing the network, answering angry customer calls/emails, etc.

Beyond the grunt work though, you have to be intimately aware of how each aspect of your business functions, and how it all works together, because you’re responsible for all of it, even if you don’t know how to do it. This includes everything from managing your supply chain to putting together human resource policies. If anything goes awry, all eyes turn to you, so you better know what’s going on.

#2 A Mountain of Paperwork and Admin Stuff
As someone said to me early on, if you want to spend your days designing things, get a job as a designer and don’t start a design business. I started my business because I wanted to design the products that I wanted to exist in the world. That’s still the case, I just don’t have much time to actually spend designing them, because I’m too busy managing my supply chain, sorting our human resource policies and fixing things to do it. Excel is open on my computer at all times, which I never thought would be the case in a million years.

Can’t you just hire someone else to do the things you don’t want to do? Sure, but keep reading…

#3 It is difficult – or almost mission impossible – to hire good staff
First, having staff costs money. A lot of money. Generally speaking, it’s best to have enough money for 4-6 months of payroll socked away to make sure you can pay people when your sales slow down. (Full confession: I don’t have this but sincerely wish I did. Skip down to #10 to see why). Revenue for a product company can come in waves, so you’ll want to be able to ride out those quieter periods and not lay people off.

Second, you have to know what the job generally requires before you pay someone to do it. It’s tempting to just hire someone to “take care of social media”, for example, but without know what exactly that entails, it’s too hard to align your expectations and to know how to measure her performance. So doing every job yourself, at least initially, is important.

Lastly, hiring is both art and science and is totally harder than it looks. My two employees at Po Campo are pretty excellent, but I’ve had some mis-hires too, and that’s rough.

#4 Motivating Your Staff
As the business owner and founder, you’re pretty devoted to making your venture succeed no matter what. Nobody else that works for you shares that devotion. Generally speaking, people like to do their job, do it well, and then go home. That’s why they work for someone else. That means that that inexplicable force that keeps pushing you ahead no matter what happens does not exist for the people who work for you, or, at least, not anywhere near as much as you feel it. You have to constantly be motivating them to try harder, push harder, see the bigger picture. You have to do that on top of managing suppliers and the mountain of paperwork and everything else.

#5 You Have to do a lot of Research about What You Want to Sell
One of my favorite parts of ladyironchef’s list was commenting on how there is a common misconception about opening a cafe that you mostly have to focus on the design and interior and then you’re good to go. I think we designers make a similar mistake about assuming that with a good product and good branding you’re good to go. Not true. Everything from your operations to your customer service policy has to be at the same level as your product and your branding or you are quickly discredited.

#6 Dealing with Suppliers will be your Worst Nightmare
This one really hit home for me. Suppliers suck! At least cut-and-sew suppliers do. Who would’ve thought it would be so hard to manufacture things, especially when you have a growing business and money to pay for everything. Po Campo has done more than 25 production runs and seriously something goes wrong each time. Bags aren’t made correctly, materials are substituted unknowingly, shipments come late, and it’s all like “tough luck”. (Before you tell me to switch to domestic production, please note that I have experienced just as many headaches with our US production partners as our overseas production partners). Most makers I know have similar experiences, but if you’ve had success with small production runs, I’d love to know about it. I’m always asking myself, “Is it seriously this hard for everyone to make things???”.

#7 Dealing with difficult customers
There are two types of people that you’ll have to deal with on a daily basis when running your business: vendors (suppliers) and customers. Customers are obviously key to your business’ success, but some of them can make your life so miserable! I’ve been screamed at, insulted and just plain treated rudely and unnecessarily harshly. Developing a thick skin without becoming too reptilian is a serious balancing act.

#8 You have to be at the cafe every day
Okay, this may be one area where it is a little different not being in a service business or not having a storefront. We have a pretty flexible work environment at Po Campo, in that I don’t have to be at the studio every day for it to keep humming along. That said, if there is a problem, I always have to be available. That means no complete vacation, ever. Have I worked on Po Campo each of the last 2,008 days? Yes. Have I taken “vacations”? Yes, absolutely. Since starting Po Campo, I’ve traveled several times to Asia, South America and Europe, all masquerading as vacation. And I checked my email and dealt with issues every day.

#9 You won’t have much time for yourself
You know that constant ticker tape on the bottom of CNN’s screen? That’s what goes on in your mind when you have your own business. Some of it is to-dos, some of it is business goals, some of it is managerial duties, some of it is turning a conversation with a difficult customer supplier over and over in your head. I get a glaze in my eyes that people call the “Po Campo face”. Once you go off on your own, commit to meditating at least 10 minutes a day to be able to operate like a half decent human.

#10 You’ll be constantly worrying
Obviously much of those ticker tape thoughts are worries. I’m going to use this last point to describe another omnipresent concern: death. Before starting my own business, I had no idea how close to death most small businesses are at all times. One extended street closure and that little shop that depends on foot traffic is dead. One big power outage and that online store runs out of cash and is dead. One faulty production run and that small maker business loses its most trusted customers and is dead. Sure, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but it also makes you realize your own mortality, and how close you are to oblivion at all times. And that makes you worry.

 

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